White, mestizo, black: a controversy and candidates who change color for the Brazilian elections | International

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Antonio Carlos Magalhães, candidate for governor of the State of Bahia, during a campaign tour.Press Antonio Carlos Magalhães (Courtesy)

When Brazilian politician Antonio Carlos Magalhães, known as ACM Neto, marked the mestizo box six years ago in the official declaration that candidates must fill out before an election, no one paid any attention to the issue. Now that he aspires to be elected governor of Bahia — the blackest state in Brazil — he has once again chosen mestizo from the available options. And a good mess has been organized. What started as a local controversy has given many laughs on social networks and has become national news. It is a controversy that reflects the extent to which social sensitivity about skin color declared by politicians has changed in recent years.

All Brazilian citizens, or residents in the country, must declare to the authorities whether they are black, mestizo, white, yellow (of Japanese or Asian origin) or indigenous. There are no guidelines, each one defines himself as he wants. And in a country as mestizo as Brazil, that creates striking situations. Over time and without the need to give explanations, any citizen can change his statement.

This declaration is also mandatory for politicians since the municipal elections of 2016. Thanks to that, we know that part of the hundreds of federal deputies who aspire to re-election in the general elections on October 2 have declared that they are of a different color than four years ago . The reason does not seem to be only the new quotas that require allocating more money to the campaigns of mestizos and blacks because the changes have occurred in both directions. Forty-two parliamentarians who were white have become black and 29 have become white.

Brazil holds general elections to elect the president, with Jair Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva as favorites, the Chamber of Deputies, a third of the Senate and the regional parliaments. If necessary, there will be a second round on October 30.

ACM Neto added the word grandson to his initials because he belongs to one of those deep-rooted family clans of politicians who make and break for decades in many corners of Brazil. In his case, in Bahia, which for centuries was the main gateway for slaves brought by force from Africa. His family owns one of the main television networks in the state.

This time, when he was comfortably leading the race for governor of Bahia, his statement caught the attention of the opposition, which criticized him. And he, to respond to those who accused him of officially going dark to win votes, gave an interview on local television. He showed up at the studio strikingly tanned and declared: “I consider myself a mestizo. You can put me next to a white person, there’s a big difference. Black, no. I would never say that I am black, ”he replied to the journalist. That skin so dark and his words together with old photos where he looks noticeably whiter gave way to a torrent of jokes, memes and others.

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In between, the scrutiny widened. Her vice-presidential candidate, who had also declared herself a mixed race, belongs to another political clan, she had to think better of it and she decided to change her to declare herself white.

Day by day the controversy was getting fatter and its effects have been felt in the polls. It turns out that in the last month ACM Neto has dropped six points, while his main opponent, Jerónimo Rodrígues, of the Workers’ Party (PT), has risen 15, according to Datafolha. In any case, this politician from the Bolsonaro orbit is still leading the race in that state, which has been one of the bastions of Lula’s party for a few years. But if he dreamed of winning in the first round, it is no longer so clear.

Beyond the opportunism of some politicians or students who want to spuriously take advantage of the socio-racial quotas implemented a decade ago in public universities, there is a greater black consciousness in Brazilian society where mestizos and blacks account for 56% (in USA, for example, are 13%). The number of Brazilians who accept their blackness continues to increase. It is a trend that is reflected in official papers and also in the fact that more and more women and men proudly wear hair that they previously smoothed conscientiously because it was considered scouring or simply ugly.

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